'Gillard's U-turn on uranium exports to India under US prod'

"Gillard's decision to open the door to uranium exports to India came after talks with the Obama administration, which viewed the ban as a roadblock to greater engagement between Washington and New Delhi," The Australian newspaper claimed.

The Prime Minister yesterday signalled she would use the Labour party's national conference next month to reverse a ban on exporting uranium to India, a non-signatory of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.

"There's nothing to be read into it, coming as it does the day before President (Barack) Obama's visit, other than it suited me as the day to make the announcement," she said, adding "So it's my decision, my announcement and it was made because of my logistics as today is the appropriate day."

The paper said it was understood that Australian and US officials have been involved in intense strategic discussions about India and the Indian Ocean for several months.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has been in India this week for a meeting on Indian Ocean co-operation and Defence Minister Stephen Smith is expected to visit India early next month to boost bilateral defence co-operation.

The Obama administration has been pursuing a closer partnership with India and considers Australia an integral part of its strategy, the paper said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said early this month that the US-Australian alliance had been transformed from "an Asia-Pacific alliance to an Indo-Pacific alliance".

The paper said the US has reconfigured its military commands so that the US Pacific Command embraces responsibility not only for the Pacific but for India and the Indian Ocean.

This is in line with sustained argument from Australian officials and ministers over many months urging the Americans to consider the Pacific and Indian oceans as a single unified theatre of operations, it said, adding in response, the Americans have urged deeper engagement with India for Australia but this required the end of the ban on uranium exports.

Discussions have taken place in several forums, including the AUSMIN ministerial meetings and the joint working party formed by the US and Australia to feed into the US Global Force Posture Review, due to report soon.

This is expected to encompass both the greater US presence in northern Australia, to be announced in Darwin tomorrow, and a higher US priority for the Indian Ocean.

Gillard yesterday said selling uranium to India would boost the economy, create more jobs and strengthen ties with the world's largest democracy as it attempted to meet its target of supplying 40 per cent of its electricity through nuclear generation by 2050.

She also pointed to the US-India civil nuclear agreement of 2008, which lifted the "de facto international ban" on the sale of uranium to India.

"Given that change in diplomatic circumstances around the world, for us to refuse to budge is all pain and no gain. And I believe our national platform should recognise that reality," she said.

However, Gillard ruled out any move to embrace nuclear power.

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